Carbine Studios' much anticipated sci-fi MMO is nearly upon us, and to help you, the potential player, understand what WildStar is all about we decided to spill our guts on just what made the past beta weekends tick. From the world itself to NPC interactions and character creation, below is an in-depth look at just what Warren Carroll and myself experienced in the many weeks of hands-on time.
Of course, this is only but a small look into the features of WildStar. As is with any MMO the content is by far larger than your average single-player RPG, and as such requires time and effort to fully understand, so don't expect all your answers to be contained below. We plan on getting into further detail soon enough on dungeons, PvP and specifically the combat of WildStar, but for now move those eyeballs below to see a sneak peak of the world of WildStar.
: With plenty of facial features, hair styles etc, and more sliders than you could ever want to tweak every bit of your character’s face, it shouldn't be difficult for players to find a unique look for their new toons. Customisation starts and stops above your character’s neck though, theres no options or sliders for the body. Personally I didn’t miss them, and it is to a degree on purpose, since the art and the silhouettes for the different races are very striking and very specific and messing with the proportions of your character too much could compromise that. Considering how wildly different each race looks and how different their proportions are anyway though, it didn’t bother me. I was able to make a space zombie with metal dreadlocks, ‘nuff said.
: I definitely agree that there were enough customisation options while creating your character to give you that personalised feel. There could have been a few more sliders such as character height, however, it seems even without these extra tweaks the game does well enough to give you a character of your own. Personally I can sometimes feel too inundated with a large amount of sliders, and WildStar has balanced this well.
Race, Class and Faction information
: When picking your character’s race, class and faction the game’s UI isn’t the most favourable. It's clear from the get-go that information is vital to playing WildStar, and having that key part of the game missing during character selection is definitely a let down.
In terms of class transparency, the character selection screen is in need of further explanation. I felt like I didn’t quite know how a Spellslinger differs from a Warrior besides the very basic flavour text when selecting the class. Carbine could do with either showing a very quick video on some of the abilities being played out, or offer a brief skill rundown in text format just to get it across on how the classes play. While playing the beta I bounced between three classes, and it wasn’t until I actually got into the game that I was able to clearly understand how exactly those classes played, as the character creation UI was lacking in that department.
: Yeah, I did feel a bit lost when choosing races and classes. I went engineer and at the time that was only because I had seen a video of somebody running a dungeon as an engineer so I knew they could tank and wanted to try out the concept of a ranged tank. There was pretty much no indication at all on the class select screen as to what is unique between each choice, and what I would be getting out of that. I mean, I wasn’t even aware until well into the game and talking to other people that Spellslingers could heal or Stalkers could tank. And especially considering how terrible the starting areas are when you make a new character, I know personally I’d want to be making the right choice the first time!
Player Narrative From the Outset
: Player narration is exactly what you would expect from a more traditional MMO. Your character does not speak, which may be a drawback for those who have come from Star Wars: The Old Republic, but it lends itself to the direction that Carbine are pushing for WildStar. I never once felt like my character should talk back or respond to quest givers, as the experience is more about what is going around you and your involvement in it then what is going on with you.
: I actually think this is WildStar’s biggest failing. It does a pretty terrible job of telling its story, and the quality of the writing when it comes to quests and NPC dialogue ranges from average to offensively bad. Lore and story in MMOs is a big hook for me, I’m the guy who reads every quest and talks to everyone and wants to know everything, and the dialogue and quests through the first starter area (you start up on a ship orbiting the planet Nexus) was so bad it almost made me lose faith in the game right then and there. Its a testament to how good the gameplay is that it kept me going and pulled me through those first few levels, but it really is a truly terrible way to introduce new players to your game and I think its going to hurt them.
Once you actually get down to Nexus things do improve, but the quality of the storytelling still remains lacklustre at best. That's not to say its all bad, there's some fantastic moments and they do some great work with in-engine cutscenes that impressed me, as well as plenty of journals and books and other lore items laying around that you can collect and read to learn more about the Wildstar universe and its denizens. In fact the quality of the writing in these supplementary lore items is FAR better than the quest and NPC dialogue so they have the talent to pull off a great narrative, it just feels a little like they dropped the ball when it comes to in-game quests and dialogue. The bar has been raised quite substantially in recent years with regards to story in MMOs, with The Old Republic and more recently The Elder Scrolls Online, and WildStar’s offering just doesn’t cut the mustard with me in light of this.
: WildStar is a gorgeous looking game. The artstyle is instantly seen as a throwback to the fantasy sci-fi days of Ratchet & Clank or the Jak series, involving a very rich colour palette and rather over-the-top cartoon feel. I never felt like the world was dull when exploring, with each zone feeling very unique from the previous. Enemies were unique in their design, varying from out-there sci-fi style aliens to your more traditional “fantasy” enemies like giant boulder ogres. What WildStar has though is its own unique graphical style, one that I can’t see myself getting bored of any time soon.
: Yeah, 100% agree, it really is a fantastic looking game. The world and the creatures that inhabit it are all so full of life and character, it makes such a refreshing change from all the browns and grays and ‘realism’ that is worming its way into so many games these days. Thats not to say its all sunshine and rainbows, it does dark and menacing just as well as it does bright and happy; Carbine have just nailed it when it comes to building out the world of Nexus and making it feel like a living, breathing place.
The Game World
: I touched on this a little earlier, but I levelled an Exile character and the starting area and first few levels of the game were about as far from exciting as it is possible to get. It really is a terrible introduction to the game and does them no favours at all, if there was one thing I wish they’d do a pass on and fix/replace before launch, it would be the starting areas because I would hate to think people might try it and give up without experiencing what a great game it becomes once you get a few levels in. You spend your first few levels doing utterly trivial fetch quests for NPCs you don’t know and (thanks to the poor writing) don’t really give a crap about. Once you get down to Nexus and out into the first real open zone the game MASSIVELY improves and you can start to really see its potential, but its a crying shame that Carbine weren't able to infuse the starting areas with that same feeling.
The first zone I went to after the starter bits as an Exile was Everstar Grove (you have a choice of two different zones you can go into), and while this was still a smaller starter area, it was much more indicative of the full game and started to give me a taste of what to expect. The main quest line running through the zone revolves around a sentient half tree/half ancient Eldan computer called the Elderoot which gives you some cool cutscenes and story moments and helps to introduce you to the sort of thing you can expect Nexus to serve up. After this I graduated to my first real completely open zone, Celestion, and quickly realised the scale of the game. The zones in Wildstar are big, I mean REALLY big, almost dauntingly so when you enter a new zone for the first time and realise how much there is to do. But that also means plenty of things to explore as well, and this is something Wildstar offers up in spades, more so than any other MMO I think I’ve played before it. Along with mechanics typically more at home in platforming games, like water spouts that shoot you up to high platforms or bouncy mushrooms that let you get more height off your jumps, exploring in Wildstar is just a hell of a lot of fun.
This feeling of scale continues on throughout the game as you progress. When I got to the main Exile city, Thayd, I was once again struck by the sheer size of it, it feels like an actual city. Progressing through there I got to the next zone, Galeras, which is the first time the war between the Exile and the Dominion gets all up in your face, as you fight on the front lines of battles and defend townships from Dominion assaults. Its an impressive sight being on the front lines, as the sky fills with mortar fire and tanks rumble past while explosions go off in the distance. While I didn’t get too far through Galeras, what I saw was definitely enough to whet my appetite and make me want more.
: I had a similar experience in beginning my first character on the Exile faction, and can definitely agree with you on the qualms of the beginning area. To me it felt like Carbine had simply looked at previous MMO starter zones and tried their best to quickly hamfist in introductory content without bothering to expand on why you were doing quests like gathering talking vegetables. This can be contributed to the quite poor writing of the starting zone, however it could also be the problem many other MMO’s face, in that its always about the end-game content, with the levelling simply serving as fluff training grounds to ensure you understand your character and their abilities.
Of course, as with Warren’s impressions, the game does change its attitude once you move onward from the faction starting zone. Environments begin to feel less static and more alive, allowing players to explore as they please instead of being fed instructions like a robot. The game opens up, offering advice on how to play but also giving you a reason as to why you should learn those skills, which was a key part that is missing from the starting zones. While I do appreciate the effort Carbine has made in ensuring players understand the world on their initial creation, it could definitely be made into a better experience.
As with Warren, I decided to choose Everstar Grove as my next zone, but the fact that you could choose your destination was a massive change from the more standard MMO approach. While zone development does go a bit pear-shape - you’ll be given quite a number of options on where to go until you hit high level, where it shapes you down into one or two zones - I never felt like levelling was filler content. Your chosen Path opens the game up further by giving you new vistas to see or hidden objects to find, further adding to your adventures across the land. These felt less tacked on and more like an evolution of the genre.
In my travels I was able to venture into Celestion, the lands beyond the Grove, where the world continued to grow in what it had to offer. My chosen path, Explorer, led me across many various adventures as I levelled my warrior and kept me interacting with the environment outside of your usual quest exploration context. Outside of the typical quest hubs the world wasn’t quite as open as say Elder Scrolls Online, however there were some hidden easter eggs or flavoured NPC encounters to find as you travel across the lands of Nexus. Celestion felt more like a glimpse into what may come at later levels.
: Unlike with Star Wars: The Old Republic or upcoming Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar opts to have some quest givers and NPC interactions voiced, and others to be a silent entity, simply offering the quest details and hoping you move on quickly. A variety of important characters take on sporadic voiced roles, which does make it feel somewhat alienated from the usual silent protags but is a welcome change to having everyone voiced and feeling like you have to sit and listen.
WildStar also takes on a cinematic approach similar to World of Warcraft’s most recent expansions, or the new rebooted Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. In-game cinematics are narrated surprisingly well for a new MMO team, and the animations are flawless in offering real emotion to the player. I never scoffed at a cinematic nor did I skip any, though the beta did have some missing clips due to its testing nature. What I did see however was quite well done, and I’d love to see more.
: Yeah, the cutscenes are very cool, even though they’re done ingame, the way the characters and even the camera are animated make it feel like the real deal and not a stilted mess like has so often been the case in other MMOs that have tried.
I wish there was a bit more VO though, maybe I’ve just been spoiled by recent offerings, but it feels like Wildstar is living in the past a bit with its text-heavy approach. I can live with quests being text, but there are a lot of times where NPCs will contact you via your communicator mid-mission to tell you things or comment on your progress, and its a bit of a hassle and a bit immersion breaking trying to read these popup dialogue bubbles while you’re in the middle of a fight. I think bits like that would have benefitted a lot more from being voiced. Also might have helped to flesh out the NPCs a bit more and give them more character, because as it stands, a lot of the NPCs come off feeling a bit bland and not memorable.
WildStar Versus the MMO Genre
: I feel like WildStar is very unique within the MMORPG genre, as its trying very hard to ensure it doesn’t just get lumped in the “World of Warcraft clone” category that many titles in the past have been branded with, but at the same time its trying to show that some of its borrowed ideas do work just as well as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2. I think by going the sci-fi route, WildStar has been able to differentiate itself not just in the storytelling and environmental aspect, but also in how the world interacts with you and how you feel about the game.
While at first glance you may assume that it is another World of Warcraft clone, WildStar quickly shows you that this isn’t exactly the case with its fast-paced action combat, serious and non-serious questing dialogue and of course the rather modern mechanics in place. With a large focus on customising your experience, be it in your house or on your mount, WildStar really tries to be its own category while taking a lot of experience from previous titles.
There is of course similarities with previous titles, and this isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing when looking at the MMO genre. I’ve always felt that if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
: Yeah, it becomes quickly apparent when playing Wildstar that it draws a lot of influence from the other MMOs that have come before it, most noticeably World of Warcraft (which isn’t altogether a surprise considering Carbine was started by 17 ex World of Warcraft devs). This however is not a bad thing, because rather than just be a World of Warcraft clone, or a Star Wars: Old Republic clone, Wildstar takes aspects of these games and then builds upon them to create an experience all its own.
Its like someone has taken all the best bits of the MMOs I’ve enjoyed in the past, and then combined them with a wishlist of features people have been asking for in this type of game for years now. Things like the incredibly customisable player housing, to the 40 man raids or the 40 vs 40 pvp ‘Warplots’ (think player housing combined with huge pvp battles). Even things like the fun little platforming challenges or the ability to scale yourself down to a lower level to play with your friends or do a lower level dungeon. And double jump! I can’t overstate the awesomeness of having a double jump, when I go back and play WoW now, I’m constantly disappointed when I can’t double jump. Sounds like a small thing, but trust me, your world will never be the same after having double jump in an MMO.
If you’re looking for something new that is bucking trends and trying to break out of the traditional MMO mould that WoW cast all those years ago, then Wildstar probably isn’t going to convert you. Its happy to be a traditional MMO, in fact it revels in it, sometimes even to its detriment (quest dialog that feels like its from 10 years ago, I’m looking at you). That focus on gameplay and solid mechanics though is also what makes it so fun to play. It doesn’t waste energy trying to be different for the sake of being different; it doesn’t try to reinvent the formula, but it is taking a damn good shot at putting its own spin on it and polishing it to a gleaming shine.
Beyond the Starter Zones
: WildStar has a lot of potential to be the next “big” MMO, and developer Carbine Studios will have a long journey in proving that this potential is something players will want to invest a monthly fee on. The content is strong, the customisation is high and a very large hint of nostalgia is easily found once you get your hands on the product, but convincing people to do just that when there are a number of other titles on the market will be the hardest task for Carbine. The MMO genre is known for not being an easy genre, but with a product like WildStar you could hit it big if you play your cards right.
In my time on the planet Nexus I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve come across. At no time did I ever feel bored of what I was doing, or regretting my decision to play on a particular night, instead eagerly awaiting the next time that I log on. That kind of feeling has only ever been sated by a few MMO’s, namely World of Warcraft, and to experience that even before its official launch is definitely a key selling point in wanting to continue to play. Character paths felt well-rounded and never dull, progression was straight forward though offered variance through environmental choices and I never felt like one zone was worse than the other. Couple this with the quite vast content available on launch and WildStar definitely has a winning formula, one I will very eagerly be counting down the clock to.
: I have, at times over the years, been accused of being a bit of a World of Warcraft ‘fanboy’. This might not be entirely untrue, I do have a soft spot for the game, and despite the odd break here and there over the years I have been playing it since it came out almost 10 years ago. I’ve played plenty of other MMOs over that time as well, some I’ve loved that ended up being short-lived affairs due to a lack of content (Old Republic), some that I desperately wanted to love but never quite lived up to their potential (Secret World), and some that I just couldn’t get into (Guild Wars). WoW has always had a level of polish and charisma and swagger about it though that other fledgling MMOs have never quite managed to capture. We’ve always told ourselves “Its to be expected”, or “It just launched, WoW has been out for years and has a head start, it will improve” and so we put up with it.
And then I tried Wildstar, which made me realise we've been kidding ourselves all this time.
This is how you launch an MMO people. It oozes a level of polish I had previously assumed was something that just came with time, that it was unrealistic to expect a brand new MMO to have at launch. Obvious thought has gone into every aspect of the game, at every level, and even a cynical old WoW fanboy like me has to tip his hat to the guys at Carbine, they’ve outdone themselves. Usually transitioning from a mature MMO like WoW to a brand new one would be a process of compromise and sacrifice, but with Wildstar I never felt that. I had all the features, mechanics, content and creature comforts at my disposal that I was used to (including a fully scriptable UI with addons already available).
Which is important, because the game is positioning itself to be a serious competitor for Blizzard’s juggernaut, so it has to be able to compete on every level. Theres other MMOs launching recently that are going after the players who are maybe burnt out or sick of or never even liked the WoW formula. They’re offering up a different experience that can live pretty happily alongside something like WoW (for example, Elder Scrolls Online). Wildstar though, its going straight at the big dog, its saying ‘Bored of WoW but like that style of game? Come play me’, so it has to be ready and able to offer up a player experience comparable to or better than what people can get from WoW. It doesn’t strike me as the sort of game someone would play at the same time as playing WoW. Its going to come down to a choice of one or the other for a lot of players, so its setting a pretty high standard for itself to reach. And impressively, its close to getting there. While a few flaws still hold it back, I think its in a prime position to offer up some genuine competition in the genre.